DeSantis’ appearance with Mastriano comes five days after he campaigned on behalf of Kari Lake, the GOP candidate for Arizona governor who repeatedly made false claims about the 2020 election, the centerpiece of his campaign.
The candidates DeSantis is fighting for, including JD Vance in Ohio, have all been endorsed by former President Donald Trump.
“His whole political lens is a calculation of what it means to overtake Trump,” said David Jolly, the Republican former congressman from Florida who is now helping to create a third political party. “His previous avoidance of 2020 voter fraud is less about personal belief and more about not bolstering Trump. Likewise, his rallying with Lake, Mastriano and others is meant to raise his national profile to the same level as Trump — demonstrating his strength as a formidable heir to the GOP presidential nomination.
The governor’s move to help several GOP candidates in other states comes during a relatively slow time for his own re-election campaign, but it added to ongoing speculation that he will run for president in 2024. The states where DeSantis has campaigned or will campaign include the key battleground states that will be vital if he mounts a White House bid.
Unlike Lake and Mastriano, however, DeSantis avoided repeating or amplifying the unproven claims of voter fraud even as Trump – a part-time resident of Florida – continued to challenge the 2020 election results.
When asked by reporters if the last presidential election was rigged, DeSantis instead highlighted changes to election laws he supported or simply changed the subject.
“I’ve been asked that a hundred times. Anyone have a question on today’s topic? DeSantis at a press conference in mid-June. He then criticized the January 6 hearings that were taking place at the time. DeSantis, however, condemned the January 6 insurgency in the aftermath of the riot.
DeSantis also rejected calls for a statewide forensic audit of Florida’s 2020 results, saying there was no need and the election went smoothly. in a state that scored a victory for Trump.
DeSantis’ re-election campaign did not respond to questions about the governor’s decision to join Mastriano on Friday. The Mastriano campaign also failed to respond. A GOP consultant familiar with DeSantis’ thinking, however, said the decision to campaign for his fellow Republicans was “for the good of the country.” The consultant said DeSantis wanted to help regain control of the U.S. Senate and stop Biden’s agenda with the help of fellow Republicans at governor’s mansions across the country. The consultant pointed out that DeSantis waited until after the primaries to campaign for them, and it was ultimately voters who chose candidates such as Lake and Mastriano.
“He knows he has a brand that can go over to independents and some Democrats,” the consultant said. “They are in our team and we need them to win.”
The board of directors of the Florida Democratic Party’s Jewish Caucus called on DeSantis to cancel his event with Mastriano, citing his ties to far-right social media network Gab. Mastriano paid $5,000 to the site, where Robert Bowers posted anti-Semitic messages before the deadly shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue. Mastriano also took part in an interview with Gab CEO Andrew Torba, where he told him, “Thank God for what you’ve done.”
Will Simons, a spokesperson for Josh Shapiro, the Pennsylvania attorney general and Democrat who is running against Mastriano, said: “DeSantis is hosting a rally with the most extreme gubernatorial candidate in the country, the one who was sentenced by Republicans and Democrats for its dangerous anti-Semitism. …and DeSantis still wants to elevate him in a futile attempt to revive his presidential campaign.
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, one of the Democrats challenging DeSantis this year, also slammed the governor for standing on stage with ‘election deniers’ and ‘anti-Semitic’ people when there is a Florida crisis over affordable housing, among other issues.
“What he’s doing right now is a reason why he’s going to lose in November,” said Fried, who is Jewish. “He’s gone campaigning for other people across the country because he’s running for 2024.”